ALDE 2014 – it’s just like being in a movie

aldeIn any half decent action movie, you have to have a vaguely credible, if unlikely, hero, a stereotypically evil, well-resourced opponent, and some sort of desirable outcome. For example, a mild mannered archaeologist or museum curator, the Nazis and the retrieval of some mystic artefact.

In ‘Indiana Clegg and the Temple of Federalism’, the outcome is the selection of the right Liberal candidate for President of the European Commission, and the opponent is Guy Verhofstadt, a former Prime Minister of Belgium and current leader of the Liberal group in the European Parliament. The hero? You decide…

In the opening scene, a group of generic Europeans are sitting around a table with a document…

“You see, Jean-Claude, with this clause, we create the appearance of democracy without involving too many people!”

“Genius, Klaus. Now, let’s bury it where nobody will notice it until it’s too late. I know – the Treaty of Lisbon – there’s no chance that any British journalist will look there…”

Years later, in Brussels, a bespectacled Belgian decides that he wants to be the Liberal candidate. Guy Verhofstadt, for it is he, is a federalist, determined to destroy the British way of life (xenophobia, isolationism, real sausages) by subsuming our constitutional monarchy into a United States of Europe. He has a lot of support from people who do not suspect his intentions, and it looks as though there is nothing, and no-one, that can stop him.

But wait, in an ornate London office, the Deputy Prime Minister is studying some dusty, slightly faded documents when he realises their significance. He leaps into action, picks up the telephone, and the campaign for truth, beauty and a proper fried breakfast is off and running. Naturally, he can’t run himself, but he is nothing if not resourceful, and someone credible, a reassuring stern Finn, is found to contest the prize.

Meetings are held, promises of support gleaned, but behind the scenes, betrayal lurks. A deal has been cut, whereby the Finn is guaranteed a really nice consolation prize, but the Belgian gets the trophy. Our hero is left with only one last-ditch alternative, to sabotage things by getting his supporters to oppose the deal. The scene is set for the final showdown…

So, that’s where we are now. A resolution has been put to the ALDE (Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe) Congress calling for the deal to be endorsed, online voting has already begun, the British delegation has been packed with loyalists, and tomorrow, in Brussels, those have chosen to participate in person will cast their votes and an outcome will be announced. What will it be? Stay tuned for the outcome of “Indiana Clegg and the Temple of Federalism”!…


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  • Yorkshire Guidon 31st Jan '14 - 10:26am

    As I understand it the Finn In question (Commissioner Olli Rehn) has been promised a good post in the Commission if he pulled out in favour of the Belgian as the ALDE Commission President candidate. Trouble is Olli Rehn won’t be coming back to the Commission as his party is in opposition in Finland. So what’s the real deal here?

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 31st Jan '14 - 10:37am

    Unless, of course, the Finns have let it be known that they’ll be sending him back anyway… Otherwise, you’re right, why make such a deal?

  • Margaret Thatcher lives!

    It’s not federalism we’re debating here – after all we’re a federal party – it’s Margaret’s misunderstanding of it as centralism. What I thought it meant – and I’m confident I’m right – is power being exercised at the appropriate level (didn’t some one use the appalling word subsidiarity?). That is good Liberal Democrat policy of only doing at a European level what can’t be done at country, region or local level.

    Of course, the eurozone might do something more, but we’re not in that.

    So, because of a misunderstanding by an appalling Tory Prime Minister years ago, we want to reject a charismatic leader (who can eat John Humphries for breakfast) in favour of a somewhat staid technocrat, who doesn’t want the job anyway, because Guy Verhofstat might frighten the British electorate into thinking we’re in favour of a reformed Europe, where decisions are made at an EU level if that’s appropriate . But they think that anyway and we’re the party of IN, aren’t we?

    Funny old world.

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 31st Jan '14 - 11:48am

    @ Mick Taylor,

    You might say that. I couldn’t possibly comment… 😉

  • “(subsidiary?). That is good Liberal Democrat policy of only doing at a European level what can’t be done at country, region or local level.”
    Sounds good. However, that idea, which sounds sensible and obvious, unfortunately hit the brick wall of reality. It is a concept that doesn’t take account of the power hungry megalomaniacs, that are ever present, ever intent in their desire to ‘policy grab’, up to a higher level ( Read : Their level !!), those policies which can be just as easily, be decided at the lower level.
    This is the core of the argument. And the title of eurosceptic, has never been an accurate measure of what is at issue here. I voted FOR staying in the EEC, so I’m in no way a eurosceptic. But what we voted FOR, is not what we got. Indeed it is fast becoming the greatest miss-selling scandal of the 20th Century.
    That very unwillingness, (of EU megalomaniacs), to let power reside at its lowest possible level, has undermined what was a viable idea in 1975 (EEC), into the NOW, all power consuming Death Star, that the United States of Europe is becoming.
    And the British public want to review their in/out options, in the light of that new information. Is democracy too much to ask?

  • @ Joe
    So the answer is loud and clear. On one sid,e the public asks (begs!), for a democratic right to determine their future in or out of the EU. And on the other side, the very party with ‘Democrats’ in its name, gives an emphatic NO.
    Is it not time for a mere sliver of honesty, and at least have the common decency to take ‘Democrats’ out of your party name?

  • Simon McGrath 31st Jan '14 - 1:12pm

    There is surely a very good reason for not supporting Verhofstadt, which is that he will do us electoral damage. He is a fanatical federalist, one of the leaders of the ‘Spinello Group’ whose goal is a ” a federal and post-national Europe” – i.e. a European superstate. Given that the support for this among UK voters is tiny he is likely to be used against us by our opponents.

  • jedibeeftrix 31st Jan '14 - 1:23pm

    @ Mick – “Of course, the eurozone might do something more, but we’re not in that.”

    no, but I get the impression that you haven’t given much thought to how caucaused eurozone decision making, managed by the ecb using the tools of the ebu, will effect the essential sovereignty of the euro-outs.

    please, lord, let the Finn win!

  • Simon McGrath: ” a federal and post-national Europe” is not ” a European superstate”. It is actually called a confederation, such as on a smaller scale Switzerland (Confoederatio Helvetica) has, where decisions are reached by agreement between leaders of the members of the confederation.

    So Not like China, Not like Russia Not even like the USA. If you have already bought into the ‘superstate’ propaganda, you will be already predisposed to see the EU through Europhobic glasses.

  • “He [ Guy Verhofstadt ], is a fanatical federalist, one of the leaders of the ‘Spinello Group’ whose goal is a ” a federal and post-national Europe” – i.e. a European superstate.”
    Simon ‘unearths’ a point that (as yet), in not very well understood by politicians, in that, the ‘Spin’ of the 80 & 90’s, and other forms of well trod government misinformation mechanisms, are no longer as feasible, when anyone with a broadband connection, is 2 or 3 clicks away from information that can counter the ‘Spin’.
    You only need to put [ Guy Verhofstadt ], into the YouTube search box, and it becomes all too glaringly apparent, how fanatical and undemocratic, this dangerous man is.

  • I agree with Mick Taylor 31st Jan ’14 – 11:36am

  • Mark Valladares Mark Valladares 31st Jan '14 - 4:23pm

    @ John Dunn,

    I suppose that, as you have no policies thanks to that nice Mr Farage, all you have left is fear. What exactly is wrong with federalism, anyway? The idea that nations pool sovereignty for mutual advantage implies consent, although I acknowledge that your friends in the European Parliament might not have noticed due to their general absence from debate.

    Verhofstadt’s logic, given his perspective of coming from a small, federal state, is impeccable, and whilst bigger European countries like ours might have a different view, his is no less valid and therefore fair game for debate. You’ll be unfamiliar with debate, as your party doesn’t allow any, as far as I can tell.

    But you probably want a government where all power is wielded from the centre, because the idea of federalism, or allocating powers to different, more appropriate levels of government, is so abhorrent to you. Funny that, because the United Kingdom is the most centralised in the European Union except Malta.

    I’m game to give the British people a say in the matter, if an honest debate can be had. And when you’ve got some policies, maybe you can join in…

  • I also agree with Gareth Epps 31st Jan ’14 – 2:17pm

    The Spinelli Group in a few words

    The Spinelli Group is an initiative lauched in September 2010, led by Guy Verhofstadt, Daniel Cohn-Bendit, Sylvie Goulard and Isabelle Durant, followed by Andrew Duff and Jo Leinen as co-chairmen of the MEP-Spinelli Group. The Group want to inject a federalist momentum into the political decisions and policies of the European Union. Through a « Manifesto » in a similar fashion as Altiero Spinelli – the Spinelli Group call upon fellow MEPs and European personalities to develop a network of those who choose the European interest above their national interest, those who want to push the federal project in their respective environment. Just like Altiero Spinelli did, we want to operate from the European Parliament, but not only from the European Parliament.

    The aim of the Spinelli Group is to become a network of citizens, politicians, academics and writers who are convinced it is time for Europe to move forward. The Spinelli Group enjoyes the support of some experienced personalities from the world of European politics, such as Joshka Fischer, Elie Barnavie, Mario Monti or Romano Prodi, who all agree to adopt a federalist approach in response to the numerous crises and revive the European spirit.

  • Tony Greaves 31st Jan '14 - 4:39pm

    I wonder who understands any of this. It seems however that 11 out of 12 of the Liberal Democrat MEPs support Verhofstadt.


  • @ Mark Valladares
    “But you probably want a government where all power is wielded from the centre, because the idea of federalism, or allocating powers to different, more appropriate levels of government, is so abhorrent to you.”
    What?? Do you actually read the comments before replying to them? My comment of 12.29pm makes the point exactly that
    ” ….of only doing at a European level what can’t be done at country, region or local level”
    or as you put it
    ” or allocating powers to different, more appropriate levels of government”,
    As I said at 12.29pm…and here again. It (( Sounds Good )). But it doesn’t work in practice due to power grabbing EU megalomania. Please read what a comment actually says, before replying.

  • @ Mark Valladares
    ” I’m game to give the British people a say in the matter”
    Really ? , that’s good to hear. Let’s see how many Lib Dem MEP’s keep their jobs in May after the British people have had a say in the matter?

  • Tony Dawson 31st Jan '14 - 5:20pm

    @Simon McGrath:

    “There is surely a very good reason for not supporting Verhofstadt, which is that he will do us electoral damage.”

    We don’t need that, do we? – We have plenty of those already! 🙁

  • Mick Taylor 31st Jan '14 - 5:40pm

    The Finn isn’t standing. He’s done a deal with the Belgian, brokered by the Dutch and the Germans at the behest of an ALDE meeting that included Simon Hughes as Nick Clegg’s representative. We can’t support a candidate who isn’t standing and doesn’t want the job. That’s why the official UK/Clegg position is patently absurd. The choice is now the deal or no candidate. Are we supposed to have no candidate for the post of President of the EU Commission?
    And yes, 11 of the 12 UK MEPs support the deal. It certainly bears asking the question why the UK parliamentarians are so at odds with the MEPs? Indeed, they don’t seem even to have talked to them.

  • jedibeeftrix 31st Jan '14 - 5:49pm

    @ Mark – “But you probably want a government where all power is wielded from the centre, because the idea of federalism, or allocating powers to different, more appropriate levels of government, is so abhorrent to you.”

    Speaking for myself; no.

    I have no problem with federalism in principle, and in practice within the UK.

    Where I depart from the assumptions you make is in recognising a difference between federalism in the EU and federalism within the UK. This for a reason you yourself give above; consent.

    I do [not] consent to common rule among the people[s] of europe, for I do not recognise a sufficiently converged set of common aims and objectives to accept such governance is legitimate.

    This because:
    1. Given the fractured nature of the people[s] of europe the governance will of necessity be remote and [unaccountable] to joe bloggs, it will be a mish-mash of compromises that satisfy none of the peoples of europe.
    2. Given the fractured nature of the people[s] of europe, driven by the very different aims and expectations, the governance will not be sufficiently [representative] of my interests.

    An EU with an interventionist foreign policy when it numbers many determinedly neutral countries, i think not.
    An EU with a ‘free-wheeling’ brand of anglo-saxon capitalism when it numbers dirigiste nations like France, i think not.

    And those neutral and/or statist nations would (rightly) feel equally aggrieved if their priorities were not represented.

    A federal EU is great, so long as:
    1. It includes only those nations that are willing to live under common governance.
    2. It does wither the essential sovereignty of those nations that stay outside common governance.

  • jedibeeftrix 31st Jan '14 - 6:22pm

    @ Mick –

    “Are we supposed to have no candidate for the post of President of the EU Commission?”

    Let’s just say that it is deeply unfortunate.

    “It certainly bears asking the question why the UK parliamentarians are so at odds with the MEPs?”

    I imagine the word “Spinelli” is deemed electoral poison in domestic politics…

  • “Verhofstadt’s critics in the UK Liberal Democrats have alleged he is some sort of dangerous and “fanatical” federalist, yet they have repeatedly failed to provide any hard evidence for their caricatured portrayal of him.”
    Simon. Seriously, are your eyes closed? From the smoking gun of fanaticism that is the very embodiment of Spinelli, to his constant ranting at countries like Poland who have the ‘audacity’ to want to retain some semblance of sovereignty and autonomy.
    Just how much proof do you need that this is a very, very dangerous man?

  • Richard Johnson 31st Jan '14 - 9:13pm

    Totally agree with Simon Titley. Verhofstadt was by far the better candidate, and indeed those LibDems which oppose his candidacy portray him as this ridiculous caricature and do not engage with (or understand?) any of his points of arguments. It seems to me that to truly defeat the Eurosceptics there has to be a credible vision for a better Europe, agree with Verhofstadt or not, at least he has a vision that is generally coherent with the realities of the modern globalised world, whereas some LibDems seem to just present some half-baked nonsense over what Britain’s relations with the EU should be, occasionally murmuring something about jobs.

  • Mick Taylor 31st Jan '14 - 9:57pm

    Just a small but important point. No-one in the Lib Dem delegation is mandated. They ‘own’ their vote and some of them are there by right as elected members of the ALDE Council and can not be described as ‘cronies’. I suspect that the vote by the UK delegation will not be unanimous – certainly the MEP votes will be overwhelmingly in favour of the deal.
    All of this makes the stand of the UK Parliamentary Party all the more incomprehensible.
    I doubt if more than a handful of UK voters have ever heard of ‘spinelli’, so how it can be considered toxic I have no idea.
    I repeat, the electorate already see us as overwhelmingly pro EU. We fighting these elections as the party of IN. So how can being seen for what we are do us damage? Perhaps the MPs should pay attention to the advice they are being given by Ryan Coetze, who has shown that those likely to support us are much more pro EU than those who don’t and also that those who want to stay in the EU are a much larger number than currently vote for us.
    You don’t pick a fight with almost every other Liberal Party in Europe, that you can’t win just over 100 days before the election. It’s politically inept and we should know better. Let us hope that even at this late stage common sense will prevail.

  • What a strange article.

    It concerns me that we could quite probably have zero MEPs in May, or three or four if we get lucky. It makes it rather pointless to wonder who we might be allied with.

    As the party of ‘IN’, we might find ourselves ‘OUT’.

    What can be done, realistically in the next 3 months to turn this around? That UKIP could end up with the most MEPs or at least in a close second place to Labour is telling us something. How is it that Labour are doing relatively well on EU matters?

  • The more I reflect on this, I begin to realise I was wrong and also Nick Clegg is wrong to overlook Verhofstadt in his preference to for Ollie Rehn. . Without a doubt, the better candidate is Guy Verhofstadt. The obvious and sensible thing is to go with your Liberal instinct and back Guy Verhofstadt.

  • Erlend Watson 1st Feb '14 - 12:45am

    Verhofstadt is very much more integrationist than most of our party. The evidence is his Spinelli affiliation and has written a book called the United States of Europe.

    I understand that while Simon H was present the only decision at that meeting was send people away to see if a deal were possible.

    You can hardly see Clegg as some Europhobe given what the Tories say. He is just realistic on this. And I am not currently on the list nof his defenders.

    As far as I as an ex member of the FE understand the party body charged with setting out our position on these matters is the International Relations Committee which has stakeholders from all parts of the party.

    Our MEPs have clearly gone absolutely native on this (like most parliamentarians) .

    As I understand European Liberalism Belgian Liberals give more weight to Economic Liberalism and Finnish Liberals give more weight to Social Liberalism.

    I do feel that Mark V has made a good story of it all.

  • Mick Taylor 1st Feb '14 - 8:13pm

    There are more people in favour of staying in the EU than vote Liberal democrat by a wide margin. It makes total sense for the Lib Dems to target these voters in the European Elections as the only party committed to staying in a (reformed) EU.
    Anyway this strand is now redundant. The vote has taken place and the Verhofstedt/Rehn double act was approved by well over 70% of the voting delegates.
    Lets get on and fight the election.

  • Chris Manners 2nd Feb '14 - 9:58pm


    Olli Rehn?

    Crike, watch those votes come in the periphery!

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